2007-06-13 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

by Joanne Anderson

Fireball, shown at left and Meatball, "Special Needs" Pomeranian at right Fireball, shown at left and Meatball, "Special Needs" Pomeranian at right Right now, the odds are awful. One in four dogs over the age of two will die of cancer, and many more will suffer from it. So many popular breeds are particularly susceptible to certain forms of the dreaded disease. Morris Animal Foundation is determined to better the odds big time for man's best friend.

In April, Morris Animal Foundation (MAF) launched a Canine Cancer Campaign, hoping to raise $30 million to cure cancer within a dog's lifetime- the next 10 to 20 years. Pfizer donated $1.1 million, the Golden Retriever Foundation pledged $500,000 more, and Camp Bow Wow, a national doggy day care/camp franchise network just joined the challenge. With MAF coordinating global research opportunities, each new breakthrough may also lead to insights for cancers in other species, including humans.

Denver-based, Morris Animal Foundation, established in 1948 by visionary veterinarian Dr. Mark Morris Sr., is dedicated to funding humane research that protects, treats and cures companion animals and wildlife. So far, 1,300 animal studies in 100 countries have had the support of MAF monies approaching $50 million.

With previous grants, MAF has contributed $7 million for 100 canine cancer studies that have led to advances in diagnostics and treatments, but the cure is still somewhere on the horizon. This 5-year initiative has many facets: partnering 14 leading veterinary schools with elite academic institutions; clinical trials, lifetime risk assessment studies; prevention by identifying genetic factors; a tumor tissue bank, and an endowment to guarantee funds for future studies.

Pfizer's gift will help create a national canine tumor-tissue bank in Bethesda, Maryland. MAF and the AKC Canine Health Foundation provided the initial funds. The plan is to collect more than 3000 samples of canine cancer tissue, including osteosarcoma, lymphoma, melanoma and other malignancies, which will aid veterinary researchers in understanding the relationships between human and canine cancers.

MAF's first multi-center project is examining bone cancer in dogs and kids. Osteosarcoma affects about 10,000 dogs (mostly large breeds) and also nearly 1,000 children. The disease is similar in aggressiveness and skeletal location of tumors. Pediatric oncologists feel that protocols that prove useful to dogs may someday help children.

With their genome mapped and documented pedigrees, purebred dogs hold keys to the cancer puzzle. Certain cancers are breed specific- Scotties are prone to bladder cancer; Boxers to brain cancer. Pinpointing gene markers offers clues to cancers we share with our pets. The Golden Retriever Foundation's donation will explore why lymphoma and hemangiosarcoma are so prevalent in their beloved breed. Hopefully other breed clubs will follow their generous lead.

Patricia Olson, DVM, PhD., the president/ CEO of Morris Animal Foundation, was formerly the director of Guide Dogs for the Blind, where in an 8/05 Veterinary Medicine interview, Dr. Olson said: "that many disciplines can come together to make life better for both animals and people. Physicians, nurses, trainers, veterinarians, geneticists and many others worked collaboratively to improve the lives of guide dogs and, in doing so, improved the lives of blind Americans."

This cooperative approach is now the genius behind the MAF Canine Cancer Campaign. Additional support will come from the Children's Oncology Group, the Animal Cancer Foundation and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. The progress toward a cure is mind boggling. Visit www.CureCanineCancer.org or www.morrisanimalfoundation.org to peek at the remarkable MAF studies complete and proposed and at the amazing list of participating researchers.

Better the odds. Do the math. Morris Animal Foundation (877-DOG-CURE) truly appreciates a donation of any size, but raising $30 million by 2012 is a huge goal. There are 44 million dog-owning households in the US. If even 1 percent of all dog lovers contribute $50 or more in honor of a pooch past, present or future, that would raise $22 million toward the total needed to combat canine cancer. The results for all will be priceless.

+Oyster Bay Town Shelter (677-5784) Miller Pl. Syosset has an adorable "Special Needs" Pomeranian seeking a loving home. "Meatball" #371 came in as an extremely matted stray. The shelter sent him to the vet where it took a week to strip him down and treat a maggot infested hot spot. Although his untraceable microchip puts him at only 5 yrs. old, "Meatball" is dangerously overweight. He's healing nicely and on a reducing diet at the shelter but may require more diagnostic tests.

Keeping with the "red & rotund" theme, "Fireball" #455 is a large (but not fat) declawed orange longhaired cat. He has lots of purrsonality. The shelter also has an over abundant selection of kittens.

+More Dogs: "Lucky" #456-Tibetan Terrier; "Reba" # 084- well-mannered black Pit; a Puggle #458.

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